01/29/2009 05:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Revisiting Today's Publishing Standards

There's been a spirited conversation on my Facebook page in response to an entry I'd made, which had been from a reaction to Motoko Rich's New York Times article about self-publishing and print-on-demand, a.k.a. POD. The discussion in part was about quality versus quantity in light of the variety of technological capabilities that are now available to most writers. There are those who feel that these capabilities are only going to add to an overabundance of poorly written, unedited books. It's a reasonable concern, to be sure. After all, wasn't it Jane Friedman, former CEO of HarperCollins, who'd said not that long ago that far too many books were being published? And I don't believe she was even referring to PODs or self-published books in her comment; but when you add them to the mix, it is something to consider--and then dismiss rather quickly. Too many books? How can you tell someone eager to express him or herself via the written word that they shouldn't try to publish because, well, there are just too many books already "out there?"

Sure, there are going to be a lot of books published that are, well, unreadable and the writer would do well first to hone the craft. But do we stop dancing just because we have not been formally trained? Do we mute ourselves during the Star Spangled Banner, if we cannot carry a note? So why should we turn off our computer or lay down our pen if the book we're writing is not going to be a best-seller or close to being a best-seller? It's quite likely those books are not going to be available at our local bookstore; rather, friends and family will get copies, say something overly generous, and the self-published author was given the opportunity to express him or herself.

Yet, there is another side to this equation. Many books that are unable to find a publisher are beautiful works, but, according to agents and editors, they have no market; in other words, it's a book that has no possibility of making it on the best-seller list or so the gatekeepers say. Therefore they don't risk their dollars, no matter how talented the author. Without the newer technological capabilities, which are not vanity presses since authors aren't required to buy hundreds of copies upfront, these writers would not have the opportunity to see his or her work in print. I was reminded of a friend once telling me how his father had tried for years to get published. Unfortunately, this struggling writer died without realizing his dream. I found that so sad. Yes, it is great to have a traditional publisher behind an author's work, but that is becoming more and more difficult, especially since most publishing houses are not making money from their lists. In turn, there are many worthy writers who are discovering a way to get their works "out there." Sure, there's a lot of competition, but in most instances, if a book is really good, it will find its audience. As for the rest, at least they were given the opportunity.

"I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing, whether in the form of verse or fiction, as a mode of truth-telling, self-expression and homage to the twin miracles of creation and consciousness." -John Updike